Ben-Hur: How a Debate With an Agnostic Inspired a Bestselling Novel About Christ

What’s called the “most influential book of the nineteenth century” is the result of a debate between two military leaders. It happened on a train ride to Indianapolis on a late summer day in 1876. Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, whose nickname was “The Great Agnostic,” bumped into author General Lew Wallace. The two spent the trip debating religion.

It appears Ingersoll gave Wallace a walloping. Wallace emerged from the bout with a desire to better understand his faith. The result was a book, published four years later, that would stand as an uncontested best-selling novel for years to come.

The Christian themes of the book are inescapable. Judah Ben-Hur, the central character, is a contemporary of Jesus living in the first century. Among other things, the book is said to have led to the conversion of some who then worked to interpret the novel and take it to the mission field as an evangelistic resource.

The book was eventually made into a movie by MGM and was seen by tens of millions of viewers and received numerous Academy Awards. The story is once again hitting the big screen this summer with superstar Morgan Freeman. I have no idea about the particulars of the movie, its rating, or any reviews. This is not an endorsement.

But I would note that the story behind the book that inspired the movie, as well as the emphasis on Christian themes within the original book, may give you ample opportunities to share with friends and coworkers about Christ. Who knows, dialogues about religion have produced all sorts of things in the past: Bestsellers, and better yet, converts.